By Peter King
September 08, 2011
NFL Week 1
Thursday, Sept. 8
8:30 p.m. ET (NBC) New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers
So hard to forecast most games this weekend, because most games involve a team with significant uncertainty after the weird offseason. Not so here. We know exactly what we'll get -- the Wisconsin air filled with footballs, by two of the top five quarterbacks in the game. I was tempted to pick the Saints because of their superior run game. But I think Aaron Rodgers' expansive catalog of weapons, led by tight end Jermichael Finley returning from a disabled 2010, rules the night at Lambeau.
Sunday, Sept. 11
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears
Games are won in the trenches, blah, blah, blah. But this one will be. The Falcons went out and paid Ray Edwards $27 million to give John Abraham help rushing the passer. Now Edwards will line up over rookie Gabe Carimi, playing his first NFL game. Meanwhile,Abraham, one of the league's best rushers, will duel left tackle J'Marcus Webb, who allowed 12 sacks as the Bears' right tackle last year. I say the Falcons will pressure Jay Cutler into a couple of mistakes and that'll be the game.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
Cool game. The battle of diminutive big-time Texas quarterbacks: Andy Dalton (Horned Frogs) at Colt McCoy (Longhorns). In a year, maybe, Dalton will be able to put 33 points on the board against Cleveland, but not this week -- not playing his first game in the NFL, in the Dawg Pound, running a new offense he's still adjusting to. McCoy, on the other hand, is on his way to a very good season.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
From all appearances, Matt Cassel will play with the bruised and/or broken rib. That's good news for the Chiefs, but how good? Cassel had a so-so summer and he's lost his security blanket, tight end Tony "Dallas Clark" Moeaki, for the season. This game is there for the Bills to steal, and I can see Ryan Fitzpatrick doing that with a break or two. The difference: Jamaal Charles running around the edge of the Bills' front.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Philadelphia Eagles at St. Louis Rams
Why so close? Who knows Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg and how they think better than Steve Spagnuolo, who coached against Reid's offense in Eagles practice every day for eight years, then game-planned against it for two years as defensive coordinator of the Giants? Michael Vick throws a monkey wrench into any team's planning, but I still say the Rams will play a good game defensively here. It'll be tough for Sam Bradford to find deep holes against the Philly secondary, so look for a big day from the hit of training camp, rookie tight end Lance Kendricks, on the underneath stuff.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Toughest game of the day to call. An opener with these two teams, two or three years ago, would be the Horsecrap Bowl. Now both are serious playoff contenders. In camp, Matthew Stafford, he of the 19 missed starts in 32 NFL weeks, told me he isn't going to change the way he plays football, but he won't do anything stupid to risk injury. We'll see starting Sunday. He'll have a couple of hungry rookies, Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, trying to make him their first pro sack.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars
Until the shocking David Garrard firing on Tuesday afternoon -- so out of the blue that Garrard went to the team's kickoff luncheon in downtown Jacksonville Tuesday -- this was the Fantasy Football Bowl, with top-five backs Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew dueling to see who wins here. But with Garrard out and Luke McCown playing, I think the Titans will try to throw a front-seven blanket over Jones-Drew, and he won't get going in his first game back from offseason knee surgery. Before Tuesday, I thought the big Pot Roast, Terrance Knighton, and Tyson Alualu, 640 pounds of defensive-tackle run-stopper, would be big players in this AFC South drama and make enough plays on Johnson for the Jags to survive. But now, I've got to go with Tennessee. Doubt I'll be picking the Jags very often this year. If at all.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Some may call this game The Redemption of Joe Flacco, who hasn't played well down the stretch in rivalry games against the hated Stillers. (That's Pittsburghese for you foreigners.) And Flacco will get the job done well enough. But this game will showcase a nearly new secondary for the Ravens, and if Baltimore can hang on, it'll be due in no small part to a couple of cornerbacks the Steelers have never tested: former practice-squadder Cary Williams and first-round pick Jimmy Smith, who, from my conversation with him in training camp, is dying to play in this game.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
The last time Peyton Manning didn't start for Indianapolis, Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator. That and $4.57 will buy you a latte at Starbucks. But it won't do the Colts any good at Reliant Stadium Sunday. Kerry Collins isn't winning a shootout against Matt Schaub anytime soon.
4:15 p.m. ET (FOX) New York Giants at Washington Redskins
Grossbeck? I have no idea what Mike Shanahan's going to do at quarterback in this game, or at all, with his hopscotching summer offensive plan. I think the Giants try to club the 'Skins with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs and fall a fourth-quarter possession short.
4:15 p.m. ET (Fox) Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Flipped a coin. Tarvaris Jackson lost. And so the race for Andrew Luck/Matt Barkley begins.
4:15 p.m. ET (FOX) Minnesota Vikings at San Diego Chargers
Donovan McNabb turns to Leslie Frazier on the Qualcomm sidelines in the fourth quarter and says: "I thought you said we could play some defense, coach."
4:15 p.m. ET (FOX) Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals
Normally, when you see a line in transactions on Tuesday saying, "ARIZONA - Claimed CB Crezdon Butler off waivers from Pittsburgh, CB Korey Lindsey off waivers from Cincinnati," you think it's going to be a big day for the Panther passing game. Maybe it should be. Maybe it will be. But I can't see it. The education of Cam Newton gets off to a rough start.
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) Dallas Cowboys at New York Jets
The Cowboys' offensive line begins a transition to youth Sunday night. Bad place to start, in the Meadowlands, against a defense that'd be tough enough for a Matt Birk or Kyle Clifton to read and recognize, never mind Phil Costa and Tyron Smith. Look for Dallas to max-protect Tony Romo, and look for Darrelle Revis to max-blanket Dez Bryant.
Monday, Sept. 12
7:00 p.m. ET (ESPN) New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
I know teams change and times change in the NFL pretty fast. But here are the scores of the last four Patriots-Dolphins games in south Florida: Pats 49-28, Pats 48-28, Dophins 22-21, Pats 41-14. New England's averaged 39.8 points a game down south in the last four tries. I sense a pattern that Reggie Bush will not interrupt.
10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
The Denver defense will keep the Foxmen in a lot of games this year, including this one. Von Miller begins his Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign in style with a few big stops, but Oakland's run game will be just enough. And at 1:25 a.m. on the East Coast, or whenever the last game of the looooooong opening weekend ends, we'll all be glad we stayed up for it. Our bosses won't on Tuesday morning, however.

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